Going through the foster care system isn’t easy, but what happens to youth as they begin to transition into life outside foster care? Many conversations come up about turning 18 and plans for after graduation, but they are typically just conversations if the youth doesn’t have the appropriate adult supporters behind them, adults who are in the youth’s life who can support them mentally, financially and/or emotionally.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, also known as DFCS, has to develop a transitional living plan (TLP) for youth who are turning 18. In these meetings postsecondary education, employment opportunities and opting to stay in extended care (which is until 21) are suggested so that youth can get additional support.
My TLP meeting was clear-cut and straight to the point, I chose to go to college and opted to stay in the system until age 21. I can personally say making my transition from high school to college was a difficult yet rewarding process. I managed to raise about $20,000 worth of scholarship money literally 2½ weeks before the fall semester of 2015.
I made my transition to Albany State University literally five days before class started. This was a result of having really strong and “pushy” adult supporters who were behind me and really believed in me. I am very fortunate to say that I’m a junior who will be graduating with my degree in visual and performing arts with a concentration in vocal performance in spring 2020.
Many of my fellow foster care brothers and sisters aren’t as fortunate as me, though. Lack of support and resources typically results in foster youth either dropping out and/ or facing homelessness. This is why only 2.5 percent of youth who grow up in foster care graduate from a four- year university.
Are you helping me or abandoning me?
Leaving home for school is typically a huge challenge and reality shift for most young adults who are at home with their parents. When most teens transition to college, their parents are there to help them move in, decorate their room and get settled in before leaving them to this new journey into adulthood. They may leave them with the extra car no one is using and some money. The family may even call or visit often to check on their young adult to see the progress they’re making and give advice and/or resources on how to handle adult situations.
Many foster youth don’t receive this kind of help. DCFS provides monthly stipends of $75, but that isn’t enough to get a college student through the month. The state grants a voucher for each youth to get school supplies and bedding (typically $200 in Georgia), and it’s usually up to the youth to plan how to get to the university of their choosing. Sometimes the caseworker will drop them off and sometimes they’ll arrange for a transporter to take the youth to the university. This could be traumatic for some youth and could be considered a form of abandonment.
I personally felt a lot of anger and animosity toward the adult supporters who got me into a university that was three hours away from the place that I called home, where everything was familiar to me. They left me and didn’t call me for weeks after I got the financial logistics taken care of. It was like once they ship you off to school they forget about you until it’s time to pay for a semester of schooling.
Navigating Breaks when campus is closed
School breaks are some of the most relaxing times during the semester, when you can go home, kick your feet up and relax. Some students stay on campus during Thanksgiving break while others go home. Christmas break is non-negotiable. Everyone must leave campus then because campus is closed.
What does that mean for youth who went through the foster care system? Where do they get to go during the school breaks? What happens if they have nowhere to go? Many youth couch surf or stay in homeless shelters during this monthlong break. No one should be homeless, especially when they are trying to make a better life for themselves. Many students end up dropping out of school and looking for jobs. As a nation we need to find ways to provide housing for youth in these special circumstances to help them get through school.
Is college even worth the stress?
Many foster youth who move on to college get recognition and praise in the beginning. Everyone is so excited for them, but who is there for them as they are matriculating through college? I was approaching my 21st birthday when life literally started to fall apart for me. I had gotten depressed to the point where I withdrew from school in the fall of 2018 in the middle of the first semester of my junior year. So many things had been going on in my life, like my car was repossessed and my grandfather passed away, just to name a few things. I had mentally checked out of school and started to work to regain my sense of purpose.
I’m currently in school and in counseling now, but I have met many other youth just like that. Many of them have agreed with me when I say that when you graduate from high school and get into a college and have everything planned out you feel on top of the world, but when DFCS drops you off at college you feel forgotten about. Some of these youth have not been back to school and can’t afford to go back. Many want to go back but have forfeited the Education Training Vouchers given by the state when they drop out of school.
We as a community have to make sure we support youth. That we stand by them in every level of their lives. Transitioning to college is a big challenge for youth whether they are in a traditional two-parent household, single-parent household or the foster care system. We must support our youth so they can excel not only in their careers but excel in life. Let’s do our part to support our foster care youth transition through college and raise the graduation rates for youth who experienced foster care.
Eshonteé Rowe is a junior in music performance with a concentration in vocal performance at Albany State University in Albany, Ga.